Tag Archives: eddie cochran

"Be-Bop-A-Newhall," Part 2

Rock and roll pioneer and “permanent” Newhall resident Gene Vincent was instrumental in bringing the nucleus of the Beatles together.

As the story goes, in July 1957, 15-year-old McCartney was talked into visiting a church festival to audition for the band The Quarrymen, which was led by 16-year-old John Lennon. McCartney reportedly played a 10-minute medley of songs by Gene, Eddie Cochran, and Little Richard. Lennon was so impressed with the younger McCartney that he asked him to join the band. Later, just before “Beatlemania” was to wash over the world, the Beatles met and befriended their idol in Hamburg where Gene helped them craft their sound.

Gene still had lots of fans stateside as well, including Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek of the Doors.

Gene was on tour in England in April 1960 when a taxi he was riding in hit a cement post. The crash seriously injured Gene and killed his cab-mate Eddie Cochran, who had made a name for himself with Summertime Blues.

Gene spent most of the next decade flitting between London and Hollywood, while recording and touring sporadically. Years of heavy drinking, bad relationships, and poor management compromised his finances and wrecked his health. He was with his parents in Saugus in 1971 when he was rushed to what was later called the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia, where a bleeding ulcer took him away from a world that had largely forgotten him.

But Gene could never be completely forgotten. Be-Bop-A-Lula, which was released 55 years ago this week, still garners airplay – either in its original version, or as covered by such performers as Gary Glitter, Carl Perkins, the Everly Brothers, Stray Cats, Queen, and not surprisingly, both Lennon and McCartney.

Gene has won some posthumous acclaim as well. Rolling Stone magazine once called Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps “the first rock ‘n’ roll band in the world,” and Be-Bop-A-Lula was listed as one of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll” by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland where Gene was inducted in 1998. More recently, Guitar Edge magazine voted Gene onto its list of the “100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time,” (although, in all fairness it should have been Cliff Gallup being honored, as he was the true master guitarist of the Blue Caps).

Gene was laid to rest at Newhall’s Eternal Valley Cemetery. French-born fan and Newhall resident Chris Bouyer hopes to see the city where Gene is buried to pay tribute to their permanent resident with an annual music festival.

“I would love to see the city of Newhall host a yearly rockabilly festival in February around Gene’s birthday,” says Bouyer. “There is a huge rockabilly underground, and I know that a festival like that could draw thousands of fans from all around the world. I imagine the festival as something that would start small and then grow big,” says Bouyer. “All it will take will be work, dedication, and passion. But that’s the story of everything worthwhile. That’s the story of rock and roll. And that’s the story of Gene.”

“Be-Bop-a-Lula … She-e-e’s my baby doll, my baby doll, my baby doll.”

 


"Be-Bop-A-Newhall," Part 1

(Since today is the 55th anniversary of the release of the epic rock and roll classic Be-Bop-a-Lula by local legend Gene Vincent, I’ve decided to reprint a two-parter on this underappreciated rockabilly pioneer.)

If you’re a fan of 1950s rock and roll, or if you just happen to be over 40, try taking this test.

Sing the following opening lyric without singing any of the rest of the song. Ready? Here goes.

“Be-Bop-a-Lula…”

Be honest. You couldn’t stop yourself, could you? Try as you might, some dormant synapse in your brain fired off the second line “… She’s My Baby …” straight to your vocal chords.

Don’t feel bad. Since June 16, 1956 – 55-years ago this week – when Be-Bop-A-Lula first hit the airwaves, so many millions of people have sung along to the tune that it has entered the world’s musical collective unconscious.

While the song may be familiar to most, the story of rock and roll legend and permanent Santa Clarita Valley resident Gene Vincent, the tune’s singer and co-author, who would have turned 76 in February, has largely been forgotten.

If asked to select likenesses for a Mount Rushmore of 1950s rock and roll legends, most Americans would showcase the images of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly. But another face would likely be added by Europeans where Gene Vincent’s popularity was on par with Presley’s near-godlike following.

Gene Vincent, whose real name was Vincent Eugene Craddock, was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1935 and began playing guitar at the age of 12. He left school early to join the Navy where he was stationed in Korea. On returning to Norfolk in 1955 he was involved in a very serious motorcycle accident that shattered his left leg, leaving him with a permanent limp and chronic pain for the rest of his life. Legend has it that he wrote Be-Bop-A-Lula in the hospital while recovering from the injury.

During the frantic months after the songs’ release, Gene and his band the Blue Caps – which featured legendary guitarist Cliff Gallup – recorded an album, played numerous concerts, and appeared in the first rock and roll feature film The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Jayne Mansfield. The pace quickly took its toll on Gene and the band and before long several members of the Blue Caps exited for good.

Gene had a few follow-up hits in America after that, but nothing to approach Be-Bop-A-Lula in popularity. With his career stalling in the States, he toured Japan and Australia with Eddie Cochran and Little Richard. Afterwards he went to Europe where he was greeted as a hero by his legions of fans.

Among those fans were some lads from Liverpool.

Paul McCartney wrote in “The Beatles Anthology” that Be-Bop-A-Lula was the first record he ever bought, and in fact, the song was reportedly instrumental in bringing the nucleus of the Beatles together in the first place.

(More on this tomorrow.)


Somethin’ Else

Rock and roll fans are being hit with a host of sad milestones these days. For instance, today marks the 40th anniversary of Janis Joplin’s drug overdose death in a Hollywood motel in 1970, which comes just two weeks after the anniversary of the passing of guitar god Jimi Hendrix that same year. And last week saw the 55th anniversary of the death of actor James Dean, who, though not a musician, greatly influenced the look and spirit of early rock and roll.

I may as well add another grim rock reminder to today’s post since I’ve brought us all down already anyway.

Yesterday would have been Eddie Cochran’s 72nd birthday had his short but influential career not been halted prematurely in a car crash just over 50 years ago. A gifted singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Cochran left us with a host of great songs, like Somethin’ Else, Twenty Flight Rock, and his biggest hit, Summertime Blues.

Cochran was born in Minnesota on October 3, 1938, to Okie parents who had moved north to find work. He was something of a musical prodigy, able to master guitar songs after a single listen. While Eddie was in his teens, his family moved briefly to Oklahoma City where they lived in an apartment building that was later the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that Timothy McVeigh would bomb in 1995. The family then settled near Los Angeles, where Cochran decided to drop out of high school to pursue a career in music, even though he was an honor student.

Success came quickly after Cochran performed Twenty Flight Rock in 1956 in one of the first great rock and roll films, The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Jayne Mansfield. Another rocker who performed in the film was Gene Vincent, who sang his early rockabilly anthem Be-Bop-a-Lula. The two would become fast friends.

Cochran would string together several hits over the next few years, led by Summertime Blues, which peaked at #8 on the charts during the summer of 1958. The song has since been covered by seemingly everyone, including The Who, who performed it at Woodstock.

On April 16, 1960, Eddie was in England on tour with Gene Vincent. The taxi they were riding in skidded into a lamp post around midnight, and Cochran was thrown through the windshield. He died in a hospital in Bath later that night. He was only 21.

(Vincent had a history of bad luck with moving vehicles, beginning as a young man, when he had permanently injured his leg in a motorcycle crash – an injury that led him to a life of strong drink. He never recovered from the death of his friend, and died prematurely only eleven years later.)

Although Cochran’s career was short, his feverish guitar and singing style influenced many later rockers, including a young Paul McCartney, who played Twenty Flight Rock when trying out for a Liverpool group known as the Quarrymen. The group was led by a young man named John Lennon, who provides us with another sad rock milestone next week with what should have been his 70th birthday had he not stopped two bullets from the gun of a psychotic fan in 1980.

In the recent re-release of his Double Fantasy album, Lennon is heard paying tribute to his main American musical influences when he whispers, “This is for Gene and Eddie and Elvis and Buddy” at the beginning of a stripped-down version of (Just Like) Starting Over.

Plaque in England where Eddie Cochran died.